Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Jerusalem and Local Elections

  • A new survey, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion among the Arabs of east Jerusalem, indicates an increasing desire among the city’s Arab population to participate in upcoming municipal elections.

  • The results of the survey give a different message from the usual narrative presented by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and show a growing trend among the Arabs of east Jerusalem towards “Israelization.”

  • However, the growing trend towards coexistence between Jewish and Arab residents after a half a century of living in a united city is not necessarily a love story. What drives the trend toward coexistence? And will the Arabs of east Jerusalem actually turn out to vote in the municipal elections in October?

A comprehensive survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion among the Arabs of east Jerusalem1 shows that around 60 percent of east Jerusalem’s residents believe they should participate in Jerusalem municipality elections taking place in October 2018, thereby having an effect on? policies from within. After many years of boycotting the elections, east Jerusalem’s Arabs believe that the time has come to play their part in the “municipal game.”

The survey’s results are not surprising. They show a continued and even growing trend toward “Israelization” among many east Jerusalem Arabs as a consequence of living in a unified city for the past 50 years. The image of a divided city is apparently fading away and disappearing from the memory of those still living there today.

The Disconnect between Local and National Arenas

The results of the survey also reveal how strong the interest created by this reality has become. The aspiration toward the equalization of services and infrastructure between the eastern and western parts of the city though having an influence on the municipality is, according to the results of the survey, stronger than the Palestinian national narrative regarding Jerusalem that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas present. Both of these bodies consider any cooperation with Israel – and with Jerusalem in particular – as a “betrayal” of their “higher purpose” of “establishing the capital of the Palestinian state in east Jerusalem.”

The survey shows that a considerable number of east Jerusalem residents are prepared to put this “higher purpose” to one side. They are ready to disconnect and differentiate between the local, municipal arena and Palestinian national goals, which don’t appear to be attainable at this time. An increasing number of citizens in east Jerusalem now believe that the way to receive city funding – which for many years has mostly been allocated to the western half of the city – is through having a political influence upon the city council.

A completely separate question is whether this trend, which has grown stronger over the years, will translate on Election Day into voting en masse by the Arabs of east Jerusalem at the polls. The answer is: not necessarily. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have already announced that they are opposed to participation in municipal elections.? Past experience has shown that this doesn’t only refer to verbal opposition.

Campaign posters during the 2006 elections.

Campaign posters in the 2006 elections. (Government Press Office)

On previous occasions, the Arab population that sought to participate in local elections, as well as public figures among the Arabs of east Jerusalem wanting to run for office in the city council, were threatened. Some of them were even physically harmed as a result of violence and terror carried out by Hamas or Fatah operatives. For example, when Hanna Siniora, former editor-in-chief of al-Fajr, wanted to run for the city council, two of his cars were set on fire.

Terror Overcomes the Voters

Local initiatives organized in Beit Safafa and Sur Baher suffered the same fate. During earlier elections, at least once (in 1969), terror organizations managed to torpedo any significant participation by east Jerusalem Arabs and the running of Arab lists in municipal polls. Only a low percentage of those with the right to vote in the eastern part of the city went to the polls. Terror won out....

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